Scientists, affiliated with the University of Maine Darling Marine Center and Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences, have discovered that rising temperatures of ocean’s waters could be lethal for baby lobsters.
The scientists found that lobster larvae struggled to survive when they were reared in water 5 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than the temperatures that are currently typical of the western Gulf of Maine, a key lobster fishing area off of New England. Five degrees is how much the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change expects the Gulf of Maine’s temperature to warm by the year 2100.
The Gulf of Maine’s warming reflects broader trends around the North Atlantic. But the statistic — accepted by scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration — underscores particular fears about the Gulf’s unique ecosystem and the lucrative fishing industries it supports for three U.S. states and two Canadian provinces
U.S. fishermen have topped 100 million pounds of lobster for seven years in a row after having never previously reached that mark, and their catch topped a half billion dollars in value at the docks for the first time in 2014.
But signs of the toll warming waters can do to the fishery are noticeable in its southern reaches, where scientists have said rising temperatures are contributing to the lobsters’ decline. The lobster catch south of Cape Cod fell to about 3.3 million pounds in 2013, 16 years have it peaked at about 22 million in 1997.
Researchers worked with more than 3,000 baby lobsters, raising them from the moment they hatched, and found that higher temperatures caused baby lobsters to develop faster – something that could help them avoid predators in the wild – but few survived.
This study is the first of its kind to focus on how American lobsters will be impacted by warming waters and the increasing acidification of the ocean in tandem.
Image: Juvenile lobsters, photo courtesy Lobster Conservancy.